“You Idiot!” And Other Thoughts About Intermarriage

It was one of my first times in a Chabad house.  The rabbi had been bugging me to go, and a friend had encouraged me to come, so I thought, “Okay, fine, I might as well go so they’ll just leave me alone.”

And so now here I was with all these… Jews… these people who desperately were clinging to their faith and community.

They were all sitting and chatting, and I was sitting in the back not chatting, not even to my friend.  I was just gonna sit through this, let the time pass, and then get the hell out.

And then up stood the man.  Apparently, this man had written a book against intermarriage.

As he started his speech, he tried to give us what he thought were very reasonable points as to why we should get married to our family; this weird, disgusting, incestuous reasoning that bugged me beyond belief.

“Well, once you get older, studies say that you’ll care more about religion.”

“High incidence of divorce…”

“Children…”

Blah blah blah.  All I heard was, “I’m a discriminatory fool.  Listen to me because I wrote a book.  Blah blah blah.”

And when he was all done, and everyone applauded, I figured they were just being polite.  Surely no one actually bought this garbage?  Marry someone just because of their religion?  Don’t marry someone you love? Seriously?

But then the Q&A started, and everyone started agreeing with him.  Not one person stood up and said something brave; said something like, “Sir, you are an idiot. Your Bronze Age thinking sicken me.”

No, they were all saying things like, “Oy, marrying outside the family makes you a traitorous fool,” or something along those lines.

I was sick to my stomach listening to these people.  Watching the rabbi smile and nod and agree.  Watching Mr. Book Man do the same.

I wanted to protest, I wanted to say something.  But I was so sick of it, so grossed out by it all, that I just stood up and walked out.

It’s now about eight years or so later.  I’m married to this Super Jew woman.  Like, she’s not just Jewish, she’s a Jew Squared.  If she was a dude, she’d be wearing five kippahs under three black hats.

And even worse: I’m happy!  I feel like I made the right choice!  And I feel like others should make the same choice.

I was thinking about this story last night, when I was reading a post on Reddit from a non-Jew asking for advice about dating a Jewish gal.  I remember the moment I read even just the title, I felt this knot in my stomach.  I felt sick.  And as I read, oy, I wanted to cry.  It really hurt to read that this woman was so seriously dating this man.  And she was the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor.  Oy.

Part of me wanted to go on there and spew a bunch of angry words at him: “You idiot!” “How dare you!”  “You have no idea what you’re doing!”

I wanted to find the woman and say, “No, no, no, you don’t get it.  Oy, what a mistake you’ll make.  Oy oy oy.”

But then, like I said, I remembered that moment in my past eight years ago… me, in that room, and how sickened I was.

And I realized… oh my gosh, I had the exact same feeling at that time that I do now… but directed in the opposite way.  I had that same knot in my stomach, that same anger, that same sickened, disgusted feeling.

Eight years ago, I wanted to strangle the man who was telling us to only marry nice Jewish girls.  Yesterday, I wanted to strangle a non-Jewish man for stealing one of our own.

And I think it was when that realization hit me, when I had that perspective, that my heart pumped a bit slower.  That my breathing went back to something normal.

I didn’t want to yell anymore.  No strangling, even.

Instead, I turned off the computer and thought.

I thought about all the other times I had written some angry message online or gotten upset with someone for saying something I felt was out of line.  I thought about the way people talk to each other so often around these topics.  As if they know it all, as if they are some sort of expert, as if the other person is a sick, twisted bastard for daring to think differently.

I was thinking about a recent article by Dennis Prager I read that stereotypes all liberals as “haters of anything old”.  I was thinking about the Huffington Post, where anyone who isn’t a liberal is spit up and chewed out.  I was thinking about Islamophobia and antisemitism.  I was thinking about the way people talk about Israel, they way they talk about raising kids, the way they talk about G-d…

And, oh my gosh… I realized how easy it is, how incredibly easy it is, to think that we know so much more and everyone knows so little, and how they don’t deserve our time.  All they deserve, in our minds, is to be demonized and exorcised.

It’s just so easy to think that way.  And so much harder to realize that a person could just as easily think one way as another.  That everyone has a valid life experience that has brought them, by whatever complicated way, to a belief that they care about.

It was only when I was forced to confront the fact that I had lived both sides of a fierce debate that I could really accept this.

And while I still believe with all my heart, with every inch of me, that a Jew should only marry another Jew… I think that people in these debates need to realize just how deserving of respect the other person is and that, even if his beliefs are dead wrong, they come from a place of sincerity that deserves respect.

Because they deserve that we should assume that their thoughts are valid.  They deserve our confidence in them.

  • I was thinking recently that whenever I’ve dismissed something (a religious, political or philosophical belief, a cultural or artistic craze, a communications medium, anything) as stupid, pointless or worthless, it usually just means that I don’t understand it or know enough about it. Sometimes I’ll learn about it and still be critical of it, but in a more thoughtful and open-minded way and in a way that is more accepting of those who disagree with me.

  • Bethany Bellingham

    I appreciate this post. I am a Jewish woman. I do not consider myself religious. I am happily married to a non-Jewish man and we have a beautiful son. When I was engaged, a good friend of mine (a Chassidic Rebbetzin) attempted to talk me out of marrying my husband. My brother and sister-in-law did not attend my wedding after consulting with their rabbi. While I forgive them, it is something I will always feel sadness about. I appreciate your acceptance and confidence. Thank you

    • gabi532

      Hugs and congrats to you! You are happy w/a fab family.

    • Lucy

      I don’t think you could/should forgive them. As far as Judaism goes, they did the right thing. There’s really nothing to forgive.

      • kristi powell

        I have just read your article and it made me laugh so hard in places. I could hear and see it through your words. I have never speculated on anything about what you are (other than a man, husband, father and friends to many) just who you are, nothing else matters to me. Its not for me to judge anyone’s faith, beliefs or religion. I just want you to know I believe you have God given gifts and what you write and share about your thoughts, experiences and beliefs do make a difference in peoples lives. Thank you.

        • Lucy

          I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • Leah

    I enjoy all of your articlse, however this one in particular resonated with me. I think you tapped into a truth that is often ignored, especially within the religious world, namely there can be many truths. If people were less concerned with projecting their perceived objective truths onto other people, and more involved with finding a personal, meaningful, truth for themselves, then I think the world would be a much better place.

    Of course, the sharing of these found truths is important for the human experience. However, if it is done in the spirit of exploration and openness, and not not simplified in two categories of “right” and “wrong,” then real dialogue with start to take place. The result of real dialogue is real change.

    The beauty of our world, and the Jewish religion is the diversity within it. The inability to look at our differences with honesty, and to perhaps more easily ride them off as “falsehoods” is a shame. Let us look at the world for what it is. Let us look at people for who they are. And let us continue, both as individuals and as a community, to search for our unique truths.

    • Lucy

      Not really.
      Judaism believes in being the only truth around. And this kind of “diversity” goes against what Judaism preaches — as I mentioned in my other comment, talking about the prophet Nehemiah. Judaism isn’t consensual, Jews are commanded to execute or banish their compatriots for moral offenses committed even in the privacy of their homes.
      You guys mistake Judaism for Liberalism.
      I advise you to read the Bible and the writing of the Jewish sages. You’ll be surprised.

      • Tuvia

        Jew believe that Judaism is the only truth around. Why they strongly believe that is one of life’s mysteries — the evidence is mixed at best.

        I think Jews — including yourself — would do well to recognize that what you love about Judaism is not that you are commanded by G-d, but that it tells you you are commanded by G-d, which you value.

  • Laura Kaplan

    You know I love you Pop Chassid. And I did enjoy this post. I am one of those judgmental ones, even though I’d like to say I’m not. I am also a Shiksa with a very jewish soul married to a jewish man who just happens to be a Kohaneim. And we love our Chabad House. There are many people in the world and many different stories. I believe that some of us were jewish in another place and time, some of us know things inherently about the religion and we may not be jewish or religious. I whole heartedly believe that jews should marry jews AND I am not jewish and married to a jew. Ahhh the mysteries of life. There is no black and white, just gray area. May everyone find exactly who they need when they need them. Shaloha from the Shiksa in the Rebbe’s Army.

  • Guest

    I get that you love who you love and I certainly grapple with being open-minded versus religious and faith driven. But, when a Jewish person marries another Jewish person you are continuing a chain that is very easily broken. It’s not that we hate non-Jews or that there is something ‘wrong’ with someone who isn’t Jewish, it’s just that marrying a non-Jewish person breaks a very old, very long, very fragile chain that *I* want to see continue….So, I get it. No judgements. But, I am hoping and praying that my kids will see the value of that chain and keep it growing…

  • shirshelshalom

    Hmm, this is very interesting to me, because as you’ve read on 90% of my comments (Hi, I’m Talia, I also comment on Facebook often) I am a BIG believer in treating people with respect, period, because it’s the proper way to behave as a human being. However, one must be careful to not take what you’re saying to the next step. This could easily lead (not that I’m saying this is what you’re insinuating, forgive me please if it sounds that way) to the idea that there isn’t any line between right and wrong.

    Let me really clarify- I think that the emphasis shouldn’t necessarily be on the idea that everyone is right and everyone is wrong- that just isn’t always true. Instead, i think that we should be respectful REGARDLESS! Even if someone is the biggest, jerkiest imbecile you’ve ever met in your life who has no reason in life to be such a jerky-jerkenheimer. Sometimes people are just jerks and they hate things. Buuuuut, I also think that right now, we seem to want to capital letter at each other for EVERYTHING! (Oy, there I go again.) Which, kind of like the overuse of the words, “racist”, and, “bigot”, which are really, really important words- but when everyone, for every reason is called, “racist” and, “bigot”…..the real ones get a pass, it really removes the meaning and the power. When everything is an argument- angry, upset, there is no more room for real passion when it’s warranted. When everything is a, “hot button issue”…..nothing is a hot button issue, it’s all just rather obnoxious.
    So, please excuse the long-winded shpiel, happens to be something I choose to be passionate about 🙂

    • I totally agree with all this!

      • shirshelshalom

        Thank you, I’m glad!

  • Yesha’yahu Shomer

    I think with every situation in life, we should approach it with modesty and understanding. I like some of the points you brought up in this blog. =) Keep it up!

  • Ruchi Koval

    Elad, what Talia below said really resonates with me. And I think it’s pretty fascinating that you were able to REMEMBER your old way of thinking. Because so many of us are stricken with the curse of knowledge, that makes it well-nigh impossible to know what it’s like to not be us. And just because someone is a baal teshuvah (used to have different religious beliefs) doesn’t cure him of the curse of knowledge. Often, he can’t access how he used to think or feel, and use that knowledge effectively in the war against hatred. Good for you, for being able to remember. Good for you, for using it to be the best person you can be. And awesome for you, for sharing it.

  • Toby

    I grew up in a Conservative Jewish community, one with all
    the customs and rituals of Judaism, but devoid of deeper meaning. While at
    college I began on my own to study and learn all of the things my Jewish
    education left me wanting. I do not call myself a Baal Teshuva because I do not
    feel like I am moving towards anything. I have no aspirations, only a desire to
    learn. And wherever that takes me, I will be happy.

    It was under these circumstances I met my current girlfriend.
    From that first day our encounters were full of conversation. About education,
    about music, about family, about life. It’s been a year and a half now and I
    can’t for the life of me remember when it came up that she is not Jewish. And
    for that matter when it came up that she is just as Jewishly literate as me. We
    are both on this quest together to learn. I from a Jewish background and
    wanting to learn more about Judaism. She from a Christian background wanting to
    learn Judaism. Although we have come from very different places, we are going
    in the same direction.

    We are now living together in a Jewish community in New York
    City with no real plans to get married. We know that our commitment towards
    each other is as strong as marriage, but she is not Jewish and we both want a
    Jewish wedding. I try not to walk around with a chip on my shoulder, but it is
    difficult to confront the puzzled looks on people’s faces in shul when we
    explain that we live together and have different last names because we are not
    married. We haven’t even told members of the community yet that Jamie is not
    Jewish. She davens like everyone else, we keep kosher like everyone else, we
    celebrate holidays. Why is there a reason they should know that she is not
    Jewish. But then we are asked when we are getting married, and it is not
    because of a lack of love for each other, but because we are each in spiritual
    flux, and right now marriage is not a place we can go to. But I am confident
    that one day we will stand together
    under the chuppah and it will be the proudest day of my life. Not only because
    of the future we will have together, but because of the past accomplishments we
    share. It is hard to judge unless you know where people come from.

  • Lucy

    This article explains why 71% of the American (non-orthodox) Jews are marrying outside of the religion…

    No, according to Judaism their opinions should not be respected, not even tolerated. Going back to the Bible we can see that the prophet Nehemiah ordered the Jews to send away their foreign wives (taking away their children too), breaking up every family in Jerusalem. This is how the Bible/Prophets/Judaism sees intermarriage.

    People respect what Judaism abhors. That’s why Judaism in America is just a hollow mix of “social justice”, bagels, Woody Allen, Jon Stewart and voting democrat…

    • Tuvia

      Many Jews think tribalism is for primitives, not cosmopolitan folks living in Western society. They marry out because they know there is no genuine “in.” It’s all an artifact of an old culture — one they find terribly flawed and antiquated.

      I personally think tribalism is kind of cool.

      • Lucy

        What they or anyone else thinks is not really my problem. I’m just stating the obvious — that Judaism is opposed to it and that you’ll no longer be Jewish.

    • This isn’t about respecting the opinion on an objective sense. It kills me to think that people are intermarrying and that it’s becoming so normal. What we’re talking about here is realizing the difference between a person’s beliefs on an objective level and the respect they deserve both in how we look at them and how we express ourselves to them.

      • Lucy

        You’re trying to create a distinction that no Jew should tolerate or accept. To Judaism it is the same thing, there’s no difference. That’s why a man who marries a non-Jewish woman is not allowed to even rise to the Torah and recite blessings.

        How, in the eyes of a believer, can they “deserve respect”, when they are going against what the religion preaches? Seems highly hypocritical to think like that if you are a practicing Jew…

        “Judaism isn’t consensual, Jews are commanded to execute or banish their compatriots for moral offenses committed even in the privacy of their homes.”

        • I wonder what your source for believing we shouldn’t respect people who hold incorrect beliefs comes from. Definitely not from any Torah I’ve ever learned.

          Tanya, chapter 32, explicitly states that we should love the person but hate the evil in them, which partly inspired this post.

          Pirkei Avot quotes Hillel as saying: “Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place.”

          And of course, there’s much more but that’s what comes to mind. Point being that it seems to me like you are assuming, based on certain rules/ideas in Judaism that it means we should hate the “sinners” along with the “sin”. And that you’re making Judaism out to be very black and white, which it isn’t at all.

          • Lucy

            I’m sorry, but to me your reasoning here is being very simplistic and silly. It’s like quoting the Bible saying that “every person is made in God’s image” to rationalize and tolerate behaviors that the same book condemns (like leftist “Jewish” groups, like betzelem eloqim, do)…

            While the moral teachings of the sages are always very useful, seems foolish to bring this advice to close our eyes to what God (and not me) condemns so fiercely…

            It is forbidden and that’s why the Halakha is so tough on people who chose to marry non-Jews. It’s simple as that. You don’t need to judge, just to to condemn it as the misdeed it is.

            And it’s always nice to remember that Tanya is not the Bible. In fact, most Jews don’t even take it into consideration. A great deal of Jews don’t even believe in the Zohar, let alone the Tanya…

          • My point here is that it is you here who is the one jumping from halachas of how to deal with someone who marries a non-Jew to not respecting them. You, not the Torah. So far you’ve provided no actual evidence that says we should do such a thing. So until you do, you are putting words in G-d’s mouth. Just because something sounds liberal doesn’t mean it’s false. Emes is beyond liberal and conservative.

          • Lucy

            I was gonna say that your “shades of gray” kind of thinking has more to do with Habbad’s philosophy than with Hassidism/Judaism (other Hassidic sects would never expose these kind of views regarding this subject), but then I remembered about my cousin, a French Habbad rabbi who cut all ties to his sister because she married a non-Jew.

            Nehemiah’s actions speak for themselves. Also, I think you should spend less time on Tanya and more on Halakha.

          • Lucy

            When you have to you a silly and nonsensical reasoning to circumvent what the Bible clearly states… then you know you’re doing something wrong.

          • Considering the fact that you have brought exactly zero halachic evidence to argue your point, and are instead relying on one text that is not prescriptive, I’m a bit shocked that you are telling me to study more halacha.

            And also considering the fact that the only reason I am religious right now is because a Chabad rabbi taught me Tanya, and that Chabad are leading the world in bringing Jews back to halachic observance, I think I’ll be studying some more Tanya after this conversation.

          • Lucy

            I’m happy for you and they have all the merits for that. It doesn’t excuse your flawed logic, tho. And the Tanya is not to blame for that. It’s obviously your opinion, based on nothing but your views.
            The Halakhic evidence is given above. Enjoy.

            Lithuanian Jews, Sephardim who follow Maimonides and Teimanim don’t even believe in the authenticity of the Zohar…

          • Lucy

            According to the Talmud in tractate Avodah Zarah 36b, The biblical prohibition of cohabiting with a non-Jew applies only within the framework of a marriage (even though such a marriage is not recognized by the halakha) (Dvarim 7;3,4) and the punishment is lashes (the standard punishment for a negative commandment).
            The prohibition of a one time cohabitation is rabbinic. This position is held by the Rambam (hilkhot Biot ‘Asurot chapter 12) and the ShuHan ‘Arukh. However, If on cohabits with a non-Jew publicly the halakha changes radically and any zealot is allowed to kill the offender. The Rambam writes that one should understand that though this prohibition does not fit into strict rules of punishment, it is crucial for the integrity of the Jewish nation.

          • Lucy
          • Lucy

            You obviously don’t know what “b’tzelem elohim” is…

            When I was talking about “leftist”, I wasn’t talking just about politics, but also about the Reform “Jewish” movement, a “typical leftist movement which uses the sophistic device of redefining terms” to transform Judaism in religious Marxism.

          • Lucy

            I was gonna say that your “shades gray” kind of thinking has more to do with Habbad’s philosophy than with Hassidism (other Hassidic sects would never expose these kind of views regardigng this subject), but then I remembered about my cousin, a French Habbad rabbi who cut all ties to his sister because she married a non-Jew.

      • Lucy

        You’re closing your eyes to the gap between a “Judaism” of hollow rites (that has more to do with a “live and let live” idea based on modern Liberalism) and the faith in God that requires us to take painful political actions in the real world. Nehemiah’s history is very telling. No conversions, no mercy for the broken families/abandoned wives and children…

  • Tuvia

    I feel like people on this blog have no idea how important the Enlightenment is to guaranteeing people the right to choose their beliefs and live by them. They sneer at the Enlightenment (and the resulting natural rights, Bill of Rights, and equality before the law) even as this “frei” thinking protects Jews from the predations of a pre-Enlightenment world which had the Inquisition and the Crusades and countless murderous attacks on Jews, blacks, women, gays, etc.

    You guys should read the Bill of Rights someday – it is the document that defines your life more than any other. And protects your life from the whims of Jew and gentile alike. People are totally ignorant on how critical the Enlightenment is to their being alive, being free to think rationally, and being able to “pursue happiness.”

    That said, while I get that you have a thing about intermarriage – what do you make of the recent NY Times article which asserted that based on DNA evidence, the Ashkenazi Jews were started by Jewish men in Europe who converted shiksas in order to marry them?

    It also asserted that in Rome there was a mass conversion to Judaism.

    What I find interesting is that orthodox rabbis today explicitly state that converting for marriage is forbidden (even though they seem to be deviating from the wisdom of our ancestors.) And they probably would not permit a “mass conversion,” again, going against the presumably wiser rabbis of the past.

    Why is conversion such a big deal today when In the past it was clearly no big deal? Maybe none of us Ashkenazim are really Jews after all? Would explain the high “intermarriage” rate – most of us are not actually Jewish if our great great great grandmothers were converted for the purpose of marriage!

    • Lucy

      You lack basic Jewish knowledge. Not just halakhic, but even historical. Check Maimonides’ Mishne Torah where he discusses conversions. Then go through legal discussions about conversions (R. Ovadiah Yossef, R. Moshe Feinstein…). Don’t forget to check the Mishna and Guemara too.

      Maybe then you’ll be able to go beyond platitudes and poorly thought tidbits of history

      • Mikhal-Sarah

        She asked why conversion was a big deal today when previous periods allowed it more leniently. You went on to tell her about times when Jews were permitted to proselytize and even forcibly converted (essentially agreeing with her that the current approach has not been the only one) then went on to tell her she was ignorant.
        She admitted she needed more Jewish education (which people generally get by asking questions) so rather than addressing her actual questions, you again tell her she lacks knowledge and throw a bunch of names at her of things to study.
        She may lack much in knowledge, but you lack much in proper Jewish etiquette,humility, chesed and ahavat Yisrael. Maybe study some mussar and then you’ll be able to engage people and not just insult them .
        Try reading the posts on here about stopping hate between Jews and Why I hate Religious People. It doesn’t start with name calling, it starts with basic obnoxiousness toward each other.

        • Lucy

          Honestly? I was in a bad mood that day and should not have talked to her like that, but her not-so-smart rambling about the virtues of “Enlightenment” and her unreasonable criticism of present time sages pushed me over the edge when I was already pissed off. The fact that the Enlightenment that she praises killed, in a few years, more than the Crusades (and centuries of Inquisition), that she criticizes, explains my outburst.

          Her question was:
          “Why is conversion such a big deal today when In the past it was clearly no big deal? ”

          I answered showing that conversion was actually a much bigger deal before and that it depends on the political moment and the understanding of the sages.

          As for the “proper Jewish etiquette”… I must remind you that when discussing biblical exegesis, during the Middle Ages (recorded in their Torah commentaries, you can find them in any מקראות גדולות), rabbis would call each other names, including things like “brainless donkey” and other very sweet nicknames…
          Don’t mistake the ethics of a well mannered swede with those of the Jews. 😉

    • Lucy

      During short periods, Jews were proselytizing with permission from rabbis (case of the Kurds before the rise of Islam), converting others by force or even forbidding all conversions — like in the period when David and Solomon were kings.

      You talk about the “wisdom of our ancestors”, but seems like you have no idea about it…

      • Tuvia

        I do lack basic Jewish knowledge – but I was just referring to the article citing a past when Jews converted women to be their wives (as much as 80% of Ashkenazism have this in their background.)

        The article is interesting because it suggests that – if indeed men were marrying goyim and simply converting them for marriage – a) we have a precedent, and orthodox leaders could entertain fully permitting conversion for marriage sake, or b) if it is forbidden to convert for marriage, then perhaps 80% of Ashkenazim are not even really Jewish.

        That being said, I have never understood why Judaism is so harsh on the idea of a spouse converting (especially in our day and age, where there is no fear of a backlash from the wider society against Jews accepting converts.)

        It always seems this is the “third rail” of Judaism – the idea of conversions for spouses just makes people nuts when indeed it could solve a lot of problems.

  • Thank you for this thoughtful article. 25 years into marriage with my Jewish husband (I’m a non-Jew), I can see the points you make far better than I could have in the early stages.

    Our story is not common, since it’s been thru our marriage and attempt to understand Gd and the meaning of my husbands Jewishness (as a Christian, I had a lot to sort out!) that actually brought him to a place of keeping Shabbat, kashrut, etc. as strange as it seems, at times Gd impressed upon me first, such as working on Shabbat, which I quit doing 15 years ago apart from any understanding of these issues from a Jewish perspective, Gd just wouldn’t leave me alone about it, so I gave in. 🙂

    My point is not to encourage intermarriage, however, in our case it has brought a Jewish soul back to life (his family isn’t observant)

    It remains my honor to support him and our daughter.

  • Shoshana

    This made me laugh and cry at the same time. I married a
    non-Jew who, after ten years, made the very serious and committed
    decision to convert. He took so long to do it for the truth, for Hashem,
    not me or a community. He studies everything from Hebrew to Talmud and
    braved wearing a yarmulke in an extremely anti-Semitic location for quite
    some time – he still has to sometimes. And yet, he is still not accepted
    by most in some Orthodox shuls. In fact, they’ve been downright rude.
    We also need to remember how many great converts are recorded in Torah
    and least we forget the family of Rabbi Akiva. I am NOT comparing my
    husband to him or Ruth, etc. I’m just saying, his heart and efforts are
    worth something to me, and I am most sure to Hashem as well. Kol tuv.